Tunisian customs officers detained after fatal shooting of tobacco vendor

Prosecutors have ordered an official investigation into the incident

Police officers secure the area at the site of an explosion that occurred yesterday in Tunis, Tunisia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
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A 23-year-old tobacco vendor in Tunisia has been shot dead by customs officers, Tunisian authorities said on Thursday.

Mohsen Zayeni was reportedly shot following an altercation between vendors and customs officials in central Tunis, witnesses said.

According to videos circulating online, Zayeni was driving his car when an officer allegedly fired shots and fled the scene.

Tunisian customs released a statement regarding the incident, which claimed that in an attempt to seize a tobacco smuggling vehicle “a large group of smugglers gathered on the spot and attacked the patrol with projectiles to help the smuggling car escape.”

Customs officials said that “warning shots” were fired in the air and at the car’s tyres in an attempt to prevent their injured colleague from being run over by the vehicle, but one of the bullets hit the driver.

Prosecutors have ordered an investigation into the incident, stating that the relevant patrol officers have been arrested, and authorities are awaiting the results of ballistics tests and an autopsy.

Zayeni's family and friends gathered on Wednesday night in front of Charles Nicole public hospital, where he was pronounced dead, and later headed to the Tobacco Customs’ office in the Ouerdia area of Tunis. A protest broke out in front of the office, with protesters burning tyres and throwing rocks at the building.

The demonstration was quickly contained by the police, who later arrested 10 people, two of whom are reportedly the victim’s cousins.

Tension continued throughout Thursday as more members of the Zayeni family arrived from his home town and demanded the release of his body for burial.

Zayeni’s death is the third incident in two weeks in which officers have been accused of using deadly force during an arrest.

Karim Sayari, 24, from Tijna Bizerte, died in detention two weeks ago after allegedly being chased by police officers. Another suspect, Malek Slimi, fell off a cliff after police allegedly hit him with batons on the legs and is on life support at Charles Nicole hospital.

Tunisian criminal law states that security forces must adhere to the principle of gradual use of force and must give multiple verbal warnings before using force against unarmed civilians.

Updated: September 16, 2022, 9:22 AM